Legislators not eager to renew flag fight

By JOHN O’CONNOR

University of South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier may have the rest of the state chattering about the Confederate flag on the State House grounds, but state lawmakers said Tuesday they expect little talk about the issue inside the Capitol..

Lawmakers said they were surprised when Spurrier weighed in on the flag issue last week, saying South Carolina would be a “more progressive, better state” if the flag were removed from the State House grounds.

A bill has been introduced (H.3588) that would remove the flag from a Confederate soldiers monument in front of the Capitol steps, but the chairmen of both House and Senate judiciary committees said members are happy with the 2000 compromise that moved the flag from atop the dome.

“Until a majority of the body tells me they’re interested in taking it up, we won’t have a hearing,” said Rep. Jim Harrison, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Most said it is not possible to debate such a controversial issue in the last six weeks of the legislative session. Others joked that they were not about to start calling football plays for the Ol’ Ball Coach and expected the same deference in return.

But many, including Rep. Chris Hart, D-Richland and a sponsor of H.3588, said Spurrier’s comments have sparked a debate the state needs to have. The flag, he said, should be treated as an artifact of history and moved to a museum.

“That flag should have been down a long time ago,” Hart said. “I think we need to step up to the plate and meet the challenge. (Spurrier) stepped out there and made a stance on it, which was the right thing to do.”

Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, noted it would take a two-thirds vote in both houses — politically difficult — to overturn the 2000 compromise.

Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, said she respected Spurrier for wading into “that hornet’s nest,” but that there are more important issues facing those she represents.

“I think it opens the debate in the public,” Cobb-Hunter said. “I don’t think it opens the debate in the General Assembly.”

Rather than fighting the flag battle again, Cobb-Hunter was focused on a bill stalled in the Ways and Means committee to help poor districts borrow money for schools.

Harrison said Spurrier’s comments would only revive the debate short-term.

“I don’t believe it will cause a swell of support,” he said.

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